• Matteo De Vos

What Vegans Can Learn From Trump

The paradoxical political strategy of scorn, ridicule, and shame

Yep, you read that right. Bear with me.

Liberals laughed at the prospect of Trump in the White House. They stigmatised, ridiculed, and scorned those supporting or sympathising with Trump’s message. A political strategy of shaming Trump supporters backfired, and helped get him elected.

Vegans too have gained a reputation for stigmatising, ridiculing, and scorning meat and dairy eaters. Ex-vegans are particularly lambasted for choosing to return to a diet containing meat. Vegan ‘militant’ hostility (by a minority) alienates conscious consumers, concerned vegetarians, and other vegans. It tarnishes the reputation of all plant-focused dietary movements.

Labelling all Trump’s supporters as racist, sexist, homophobic, and/or xenophobic fails to see how some were misled by false promises to reverse long (perceived) injustices and inequalities. No doubt these supporters have some serious explaining to do and should actively distance themselves from the racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia they claim not to represent.

Labelling all meat-eaters as inhuman, indecent, and inconsiderate overlooks the efforts by many, however small, to eat meat and dairy more sparingly, more locally, and more free-range.

It’s time to stop.

Scorn, ridicule and shame only provide ‘ammo’ to the real culprits: the truly unapologetic racists supporting Trump or the shameless, remorseless, provocative meat-eaters. The stereotype of the aloof Liberal elite is reinforced; the stereotype of the militant Vegan is confirmed.

Be compassionate, not condescending

Meet the willing majority in the middle. You won’t win over the KKK, nor the die-hard meat lovers.

Praise, support and encourage those making concrete steps towards eating less meat and dairy. A flexitarian that is 80% vegetarian is not a hypocrite. A vegetarian that is 80% vegan is not a sell-out. They are all steps in the right direction for ethical, moral and environmental reasons.

Could they do better? Sure.

Should they be scolded for being insufficiently radical? I don’t think so.

Accept that not everyone will go ‘cold turkey’.

There are many ways to support social, environmental, and ethical causes. We pick our battles. Veganism and vegetarianism, for me personally, are some of the most effective. But I accept and appreciate that not everyone agrees and that there are other pathways to reaching the same objectives.

Be respectful, but show urgency.

Convey your message — the reasons why you do what you do — with a sense of urgency that the matter at hand demands. Then leave people be to make up their own minds and draw their own conclusions.

Don’t waste your time.

Don’t spend your time scolding those you’ll never convince, or those already 80% of the way there. Stop the black-and-white labelling of people as vegan or non-vegan. In-group bias and out-group scorn keeps you in an echo-chamber, and we’ve seen all too well how that turned out last year.

Focus on the majority of people in the middle: people open to reason and change when not scorned, ridiculed, and shamed.

Convince them instead.